New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government plans to split the mega-deal of 114 multi-role fighter jets (MRFA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) into two separate orders, even as the navy pursues its own program of acquisition of fighter jets, ThePrint has learned.
Sources in India’s defense and security establishment said that instead of acquiring 114 fighters at once, as previously planned, the government was considering placing an initial order for 54 aircraft for the IAF.
This would involve purchasing 18 off-the-shelf fighters from the overseas original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and building 36 in India through a joint venture under Make In India.
This would be an order that will be placed directly with the foreign OEM.
When asked what would happen to the subsequent IAF requirement, the sources said a follow-up order would be placed with the joint venture and that deal would be in Indian currency.
While the sources declined to speculate on whether a global tender would be appropriate, the main players in the IAF deal will be US-based Boeing and France’s Dassault Aviation.
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“IAF satisfied with Rafale aircraft”
India has already purchased 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation and set up two bases with two separate simulators for training.
In France each base can accommodate 72 aircraft and so India for two separate bases for only 36 was a surprise and an indicator that more Rafale jets could be purchased.
Boeing, keen to win the mega contract, will decide what to offer to the IAF – F/A 18 Super Hornet Block 3 or F-15 EX – depending on the final technical requirements.
In the past, the two companies have said in a private conversation that any plans to start a production line in India will depend on the number of aircraft ordered.
Dassault Aviation had publicly stated that to start a production line in India, a minimum order of 100 fighters was required.
However, it is not yet known how many follow-up orders will be once the order of 54 is completed.
The IAF is banking on the MRFA with the Tejas Mk 1A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and future generation indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
Sources said the IAF is happy with the Rafale jets and would be happy if more aircraft are purchased, which will be a government decision.
Any future purchase of Rafale aircraft will prove cheaper than the 36 already purchased.
Indeed, much of the 1,700 million euros paid for India-specific improvements in the Rafale will go down, as the majority of the costs have been spent on research and development, modification and certification.
The cost of setting up the base and training will also decrease as India had paid for setting up two bases for only 36 aircraft. These bases can easily accommodate more Rafale squadrons at no additional cost.
In addition, future Rafale fighter jets will not benefit from any compensation under the new government policy, which will further reduce costs.
The Rafale is the 7th addition to the fighter types available to the IAF – a unique feat in strength compared to the world’s major air forces.
Navy set to pursue own deal for fighters
We also learn that the Navy is considering procuring fighters for its carrier itself rather than following the IAF.
Earlier, in 2020, then-navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said the force was trying to work with the IAF for possible joint procurement.
The Navy, which had originally planned to buy 57 fighters, is now planning to buy 26.
For the naval contract too, competition is between Boeing and Dassault Aviation.
Two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, leased from the US Navy, display their ski jump from the INS Hansa Shore Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa to project their capabilities to operate from Indian aircraft carriers.
This was done after Dassault Aviation performed a similar demonstration.
Sources said all 26 planes will be purchased off the shelf. However, since India will operate two carriers by August this year and has encountered multiple issues with the existing MiG-29K, the navy is expected to add new fighters in the coming years.
If the Navy decides to go into its own procurement process rather than align with the IAF, then the advantage is with Boeing.
Indeed, its single-seater and its two-seater are both capable of operating from the aircraft carrier, unlike the Rafale M whose two-seater operates from the shore.
Another aspect that Boeing insists on is interoperability. The US firm says the Super Hornets are compatible with systems and platforms the Indian Navy already operates or has acquired – the MH-60 Romeo anti-submarine helicopters and the P-8I Poseidon long-range seaplanes.
The aircraft, which can carry more anti-ship missiles than the Rafale M, will become more powerful with all the assets talking to each other and providing a comprehensive view of the area of operations, Boeing said.
(Editing by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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